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UN Refugee Agency Rejects Complaints By Kenyan Politicians - 2002-07-17

The U.N. refugee agency is rejecting complaints by members of Kenya's parliament about the way the agency is managing two refugee camps in northern Kenya. But the agency said it will meet with the Kenyan politicians Thursday to try to resolve the matter.

Four members of Kenya's parliament said local people near the Kakuma and Daadab camps are suffering because of the presence of the refugees.

But a U.N. refugee agency spokesman, Emmanuel Nyabera, said the charges are misleading. He said the local people have benefited greatly from the UNHCR's presence.

"We have built a magistrate's court and DO's (district officer's) office in Daadab. We have donated vehicles to the police force. We support education programs. For example, Daadab High School, we have constructed two classrooms. We give free water, free electricity. We have sunk boreholes (wells) for the local community in both Daadab and Kakuma. So it would be really insincere to say that we have not done anything to help," Mr. Nyabera said.

The UNHCR spokesman also rejected statements that refugees looking for firewood are damaging the environment in what are extremely arid, famine-prone parts of Kenya. He said it is local people who are being paid to supply firewood so that the refugees do not go out and collect it themselves.

"In fact, the whole idea of supplying firewood to the refugees is one of the programs we have initiated to reverse environmental degradation. What happens is that we give a tender to these particular people who first of all have to belong to the local community. So the whole aspect of saying that we give awards to people from outside is not sincere," Mr. Nyabera said.

Three local people were killed in Kakuma on Friday during a demonstration to demand higher prices for the firewood they sell to the United Nations.

Last week, two members of Kenya's parliament threatened to burn down the Daadab refugee camp unless the UNHCR relocated it within one week. The U.N. agency said it is the Kenyan government that decides the site of refugee camps.

Kenya is host to more than 230,000 refugees, mainly from Sudan and Somalia.